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Mari Sundli Tveit, Chair, Universities Norway

At the International Higher Education Forum, Mari Sundli Tveit, also Rector of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, cheered up attendees by expressing unwavering support for the UK HE sector irrespective of Brexit. Here, she talks about the Norwegian HE sector’s reaction to the prospect of Brexit, its internationalisation priorities and her next career step.

 

I have a PhD in landscape architecture – I am a professor of landscape architecture

The PIE: What are the reactions of the academic community in Norway to the prospect of Brexit?

Mari Sundli Tveit: The UK is an extremely important partner for Norway in research and education, and there is long-standing cooperation.

As an example, looking at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, about half of the contracts that we get, the EU funding is with UK partners.

When you look at co-authorship, when you look at all the parameters, you will see that for Norway, the UK is an extremely important partner. And of course, it’s a very important nation for research and education in the world.

We are very worried about the potential effects of Brexit, and now it’s a difficult situation because we don’t know what is around the corner. But we feel, and this is also something that I wanted to express in my speech at IHEF, that we will find ways. We will keep and develop our partnerships with the UK, this is something we are committed to doing.

“We will keep and develop our partnerships with the UK, this is something we are committed to doing”

The difficulty now lies in the uncertainty. But we need to treat these uncertain times in a way that we don’t get long-term damaging effects.

[We should follow] the advice that had been given from the Norwegian Research Council when it comes to UK partnerships in Horizon Europe consortia. We should not be thinking that much about the short-term effects of not getting funding, that’s not really what is at stake here.

What is at stake are long-term partnerships, and that will be more serious. I do feel that everyone should be telling each other now that we really need to keep our partnerships, in fact we need to strengthen our partnerships during these difficult times, so that when we know what the new rules of the game will be, we will have strong partnerships to work with in that new setting – because it seems to be there will be a new setting.

The PIE: Has there been similar advice in regards to mobility?

MST: The advice given by the ministry was for students to be cautious and maybe not go to the UK while we don’t know what the situation will be like.

And I think this is a loss.

When you think about the long-term effects of every single person going from Norway to the UK, getting the experience, the network, the academic quality that you would get visiting UK institutions, I think the long-lasting effect of not doing that is so much more worrying than the sort of situation we are in right now.

It would be a very long-term investment to say ‘we will have your back, you should go to the UK, it’s one of the best countries in the world you can go to and you should do that. And we will make sure that the students will not suffer in any way from the situation’.

“I wish everyone could keep thinking long-term in this situation”

I think that would be a very long-term way of thinking. I wish everyone could keep thinking long-term in this situation.

The PIE: What has the reaction been to your disagreement on this issue?

 MST: I would very strongly advise researchers to keep their network and just hold on to that. In fact, the day after the conference I was contacted by the Norwegian Research Council, and they said that [it] was not what they had meant to say – which is very good news.

So they have in fact re-phrased some of their advice so that it’s clearer that they also value the importance of keeping the networks – but also still pointing at some of the various challenges to do with funding. If I have read it that way, many other people would have read it that way, so I am happy that clarifications were made.

The PIE: Moving on from Brexit, what are the internationalisation priorities for Universities Norway?

MST: The ‘Panorama Strategy‘ for cooperation in higher education and research is a priority,  and obviously the European focus is very strong for Norway. But we also have the BRICS countries as a special focus, and the US is an extremely important partner for us as well, we work along very many different axes.

Universities Norway works very closely with the Panorama Strategy, and all the institutions have their own internationalisation plan and priorities depending on the academic field of specialisation.

“Research is and will always be an international, global effort and all Norwegian institutions are aligned with that”

For the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, for example, we have also a lot of cooperation with universities in East Asia, and this has been going on for many years – on research, exchange, capacity building, so there are definitely many universities that have these kinds of areas that go outside the Panorama Strategy and go along the academic field of specialisation. But research is and will always be an international, global effort and all Norwegian institutions are aligned with that.

The PIE: Is there a focus on student mobility as well, both inbound and outbound?

MST: There is a new white paper coming from the Ministry of Education on internationalisation. It’s coming very soon, it should be around the corner.

It’s very ambitious: it contains recommendations to boost inbound and outbound mobility, and this is to increase the quality of what we do, and it’s really something we cannot do without international connections. Research and education for the future have to be international and to cross all kinds of borders: internationalisation has been high on the agenda in Norway for many years.

The PIE: How did you start your career in higher education?

I have a PhD in landscape architecture – I am a professor of landscape architecture – and I got involved in leadership [when] I was a student.

“Internationalisation has been high on the agenda in Norway for many years”

But a change is coming soon: my second and final term as a rector was coming up in two years, and I knew I was not going to go back to research. I will be leaving office as rector in July, and work with the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises.

I will be responsible for driving sustainable development and strengthening the bond between research, education and innovation and industry. I have been in academia all my life so I have mixed feelings, really, but I am looking forward to making changes and help reach sustainable development from a new angle.

Who knows, I may come back one day: I love this sector, and I think it’s so important.

I think we will not get sustainable development and reach sustainable development goals without the higher education sector.

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